According to folklore, there are so many monsters and spirits linked to wells, lakes, rivers and waterways that one wonders why anybody ever went near them at all. Here is a survival guide for just a few of them.
Found: Scotland and Ireland, near rivers and lochs
How to recognise it: Beautiful black pony that appears to be wandering lost, with a suspiciously damp mane.
What NOT to do: Do not exclaim, “What a friendly horsey!” before leaping on its back and going for a gallop. It will ride with you into the water, drown you and then devour you, leaving only your heart. It has a taste for children.
Found: Japan, in ponds and rivers
How to recognise it: Child-sized but with an animal face, webbed hands and feet and a small indentation in the top of its head filled with water.
What NOT to do: Do not forget your manners. If you sweep a low bow, the kappa will do likewise, spilling the water in its head-dent and thus losing all its power. This will stop it playing tricks upon you or deciding that you look tasty.
Found: North of England, in cold or murky waters
How to recognise it: A green-skinned, frog-eyed, needle-toothed hag. Difficult to spot, however - she is usually hidden beneath the surface by murk or duckweed
What NOT to do: Do not frolic carelessly on the brink of wells, marshes, murky ponds, weed-choked pools, etc. Jenny Greenteeth will pull you into the water and eat you. Again, she considers children something of a delicacy.
Found: Sussex, particularly Lyminster
How to recognise it: It looks a lot like a dragon. And it’s eating your cow.
What NOT to do: Do not go anywhere near the ‘knuckerholes’, the allegedly bottomless pools in which the knucker lives. In fact, if a knucker is on the rampage you might want to leave town, taking your family and livestock with you.
Found: In the sea, particularly around the Orkney Islands
How to recognise it: In the water, the selkie is a seal. On land it strips off its selkie skin and takes the form of a lithe and attractive human, often a handsome young man, or a pretty woman whose hem is always wet.
What NOT to do: Do not steal its selkie skin so that the selkie is forced to stay with you and marry you. It will work, but sooner or later the selkie will find the skin… and will run off back to the sea, taking your children with it.
How to recognize it: Some say it looks a lot like the Loch Ness Monster, whilst others say it resembles a giant beaver
What NOT to do: Do not build your house near a river that has an afanc in it. The whole valley will get flooded next time the afanc gets annoyed and starts splashing around. The best way to calm it down is to get a pretty girl to sing lullabies to it.
Found: England, Germany and Scandinavia, in streams, rivers, pools and all manner of other watering places
How to recognize it: Nixies tend to be shapeshifters, and often take human form… so be wary of any beautiful or handsome stranger that wants you to join them at night near a riverbank, or suddenly appears in the water and beckons to you. Be doubly suspicious if they are gifted dancers, singers or violinists.
Things NOT to do: Do not listen to a nixie, approach a nixie, or go swimming somewhere that a nixie’s dance has been seen or a nixie’s scream has been heard. You might persuade a nix to teach you to play unearthly music… but it’s far more likely that you’ll just end up drowned. They’re not necessarily as beautiful or friendly as they seem.
How to recognize it: There are many descriptions of the bunyip, all of them hideous. It has a blood-curdling scream, and is always hungry.
What NOT to do: Do not wander off by yourself to investigate strange rustling sounds by the edge of the billabong. You will never be seen again.
In summary: If there is something large and weird in the water, it probably wants to eat you.